I’m a native English speaker, but I often find myself looking up the meaning of English words. To me, word choices are powerful and important. A lot of the words I learned, I learned in the context of reading. I like to know their definitions, because I want to verify that I’m using the word correctly. When I’m wanted to determine the right word for a given situation, I’ve struggled with online word resources because they don’t seem to cater to this use case. Here, I’m looking to contrast related words to explore shades of meaning.
For example, let’s suppose I have a job candidate intake process, and I want to define a finite state machine for it. There are three possible end states. The most desirable state is that the candidate is offered a job (“accepted”). The most common is that the candidate doesn’t possess the qualifications for the position, or doesn’t pass one of the interviews (“declined”).
However, there is another state for candidates whose journey has ended unsuccessfully. Unlike those we’ve declined, they are candidates with whom we might continue under different circumstances. Many of these candidates are ones that withdrew themselves from consideration. Others, we referred to different teams at our company with more pressing needs, but that we might still consider for our team given the opportunity. I sought a word that encapsulated this concept.
In my experience, online dictionaries tend to focus on detailed word definitions. To be of use here, I would need to look at the definitions of all the related words and perform the comparison myself. Sometimes, for broad words, dictionaries will have a paragraph of usage notes. However, those can be hard to find in every case. Online thesauruses tend to offer synonyms and antonyms, but being lists of single words and phrases, they lack the detailed definitions needed to distinguish the subtleties between words. For my kind of query, I need a hybrid resource.
I happened to be doing a web search in this vein and came across vocabulary.com, which is the closest I’ve seen. Each word comes with a quick paragraph that highlights why you might choose the word, illustrated with a usage example. Its definitions are given in short phrases, which overcomes my issue with thesauruses, along with links to related words to make word comparison easy.
By the way, the word I chose for that third state is “waived”. Before this search, I was using the word “forewent”. Forewent is a fine word, but it didn’t sit right with me. It sounds obsolete, and forgo itself could have this connotation of abstaining from deciding whether to move forward at all, or doing without the job position entirely, neither of which quite fit. With “waive”, we’re voluntarily relinquishing our right to that candidate, which is closer to the situation.
What word would you choose?